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Bob Rae trumpets cross-country tour as 'therapy' for Liberals

Liberal Leader Bob Rae announces his summer tour at an Ottawa news conferece on July 5, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

With Canada Day celebrations over, the young royal couple gone from Ottawa and the summer political doldrums about to descend over Parliament Hill, Bob Rae pounced.

The Interim Liberal Leader - and leader of the third party, which often garners little attention - moved in to fill the vacuum and grab a headline, announcing on Tuesday that not only is his party "alive and well," but that like Liberal leaders before him, he's about to embark on a summer tour.

This tour, aimed at rebuilding and renewal, begins next week in Prince Edward Island and continues to the end of August with a summer caucus retreat in Ottawa. In between, Mr. Rae will visit 10 provinces and the North.

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And while his immediate predecessors were unsuccessful with their summer tours - Michael Ignatieff by bus last year, and Stéphane Dion's mission to sell his carbon tax proposal in 2008 - Mr. Rae said his mandate is much different.

He is not facing an imminent election campaign as were the other two. Rather, he noted, the fact that Stephen Harper's Conservatives have a majority means no election until at least 2015. And Liberals have also decided that with only 34 seats and third-party status, a leadership battle can be put off until the spring of 2013.

"This gives us the opportunity without having all of the baggage of having a leadership race. … I think we'll be able to have a much more candid and open conversation if there isn't that whole dimension of a leadership race …," Mr. Rae said.

Although Mr. Rae has said he won't seek the permanent leadership, some in the party now believe that he should do so in 2013, and take the party into the next election. A seasoned leader, he would likely bring the party a few more seats and put it in a fighting position for the election after that.

This would give other, younger Liberals who are considering a run at the leadership more time to prepare. It would also let the party avoid the mistake of running yet another untested leader in an election campaign.

Flying solo at his news conference, Mr. Rae said the party is united, although this tour is "part of the therapy" to deal with lingering questions about the election implosion.

As for how the party is faring financially, he pointed to the fact that Liberals raised $150,000 in four days to help put up a new website as proof that there is still interest in the brand.

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"It still shows a bit of life in the party," Mr. Rae said, with his tongue slightly in his cheek. However, with changes to political financing about to bring an end to parties' taxpayer subsidies, Mr. Rae knows the Liberals need to raise money more effectively. The party has not yet found a strategy to replace corporate donations after Jean Chrétien's government banned them.

The Liberals plan to emulate the Tories, who he said are on a constant campaign, by appealing to prospective donors to help them act on specific issues so that they can counter attacks from the Harper Conservatives, such as the scathing pre-writ ads about Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Dion.

"Surely to goodness we've learned that lesson that you can't leave your leader exposed to artillery fire for six months before an election and not be in a position to respond," he said.

It's also important, noted Mr. Rae, to advertise between elections.

"We think it's absolutely necessary for us to be able to connect with Canadians and remind them who we are and what we are in a period when there might not be an election."

He also criticized the NDP and the Conservatives over the 58-hour filibuster of legislation to end the Canada Post lockout, saying it demonstrates the "dangers" of having two strongly ideological parties.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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